This process begins with the continuation bet (the “C-bet”). This idea is well known and has been around for a long time. In simple terms, you raise pre-flop, then represent the strength of your pre-flop range by betting the flop whether you connected with the board or not.
Here’s an example. It’s a 2-5 no-limit game with $500 stacks. Three players limp, and you make it $35 to go with A♥Q♥. The big blind calls, and two of the limpers call. There’s $147 in the pot and $465 behind.
The flop comes K♥4♦2♣. Your opponents check. You bet $80, and your opponents all fold.
If you ask typical players why they bet with A-Q on that board, you’ll sometimes hear, “I raised pre-flop so I can represent the king on the flop.”
In my opinion, that answer represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what’s going on, a misunderstanding that will ultimately cause players to make unprofitable C-bets and miss profitable ones. Given what I’ve said so far about barreling, can you spot the problem with that thought process?
Take a second to think about it.
Okay, time’s up. Here’s the problem. The focus remains on the bettor’s own hand. He’s “representing the king” with a C-bet, a representation backed up in his mind by his pre-flop raise.
In reality, it’s mostly irrelevant that he raised pre-flop. And if people fold, it’s not out of fear that the pre-flop raiser hit a king. They fold because they likely missed the flop, or they flopped something so weak they didn’t feel it was worth $80.
In other words, the bet’s success or failure has everything to do with what other players hold, and little or nothing to do with what the bettor holds (or what he represents holding). This analysis will not hold true for all bluff bets, but it is nearly universally true of C-bets. If someone has a king, they’re calling. If someone doesn’t have a king, on a board like K-4-2 rainbow, if you bet big enough there’s a good chance they’re folding.
This idea of “representing the king” is pernicious because it has you attacking the wrong types of flops and turns. Take the action described in this example but compare two different flops. The first is K-4-2 rainbow. The second is 8-4-2 rainbow. On the first flop, you can “represent the king.” On the second flop, it’s “obvious the pre-flop raiser missed” just about everything.
However, in a typical 2-5 game, it’s far more important to C- bet on the 8-4-2 flop than on the K-4-2 flop. In fact, on the king- high flop, I might even check it back with the intention of betting the turn if everyone again checks to me.
I would nearly always C-bet, however, the 8-4-2 flop.
I’ll expand on this important concept in Skill #5. For now, however, this is the essential takeaway idea.
Barreling is not about what you hold or what you could hold. Barreling is about punishing your opponent for having too many junk hands and his choosing to get rid of those extra hands by folding them.
In romance, the cliché break-up line goes, “It’s not you, it’s me.” In poker it’s the opposite. “It’s not me. It’s you.” Keep the focus on your opponents’ holdings and you’ll get ever closer to poker bliss.